Journalism is a dying industry, we’re told. Read about it in the papers. What’s left of them, that is.
Malcolm Moran is here to say don’t believe everything you read and hear. And listen to this: He contends in many respects the market never has been better for young journalists. So are the opportunities to make an immediate impact.
Moran has seen it up close as the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society at the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism since 2006. And it isn’t just about young equaling cheaper.
“For the first time in the history of the industry, a 20-something journalist could have an advantage over a 40-something candidate,” Moran said.
In January, Moran will be molding those young writers as the new director of the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana. He takes over a program launched in 2009 by my old Tribune boss Tim Franklin. Moran said there are 100 students affiliated with the NJSC. Those students recently participated in compiling the hiring report card for the Black Coaches and Administrators Association, yet another example of the opportunity to make an early impact.
Moran obviously has the credentials with distinguished stops at the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and USA Today. He has covered more college bowl games and Final Fours than he cares to count.
Now Moran is making his presence felt on the academic side during a time of great transition for the profession. Here’s my Q/A.
For the first time in the history of the industry, a 20-something journalist could have an advantage over a 40-something candidate. Graduates as recent as the class of 2007 have told me they feel as though they missed out on having the new technology included in their course work. If a younger candidate can meet all the timeless expectations of the industry, and demonstrate that he or she can tell stories across platforms, the assumption is that the candidate will handle the technology more easily than the more experienced veteran. Media outlets are willing to sacrifice institutional memory – and the higher salaries that comes with that – for more cost-effective, techno-savvy candidates. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just saying it’s happening.
But what about the job cuts in the market. Aren’t there diminished opportunities?
Yes, there is a distribution problem on the print side, but think about how many outlets that didn’t exist 10 years ago. There are staffers from our program at Penn State who are working at the Big Ten Network. When I started, the Big Ten Network was on the drawing board. ESPN.com was a small core of writers and a lot of wire copy 10-15 years ago. Now look at it.
In the spring of 2009, it seemed like there was no movement. The students who were graduating had a hard time finding jobs. But now we’re seeing more opportunities.
At Penn State, we had a student, Mark Viera, who wound up covering a lot of the Sandusky story for the New York Times. If you opened up the paper, you would assume he was a staff writer. He and Pete Thamel won the APSE award for breaking news. Those kinds of places would rarely use a free lancer 10-15 years ago. Now they do. The opportunity to make a name for yourself now is much greater.
Why would somebody want a sports journalism program as opposed to a regular journalism program?
Part of it is the nature of the industry and the changes we’ve seen. It’s so much more fragmented. Can a journalism major succeed in sports? Of course. However, last year, the students at Penn State covered the men’s Final Four, the BCS game, and the Olympics. If you’re 22 and have that on your resume, you’re in good shape.
We had nine students at the Olympics in London. They produced the digital newsletter daily for the USOC. There were only 15 U.S. media outlets that had more people in London than we did.
You can’t replicate what we did in London in a classroom. When we first got there, they were, ‘OK, what do we do now?’ By the end, they were veterans. It was fun to watch them discover that they can do this.
How is teaching sports journalism different now than 10 years ago?
It’s different than even three or four years ago. I guarantee you the word ‘tweet’ was nowhere to be found in my syllabus. Now I do a class on tweeting and how to use it in an intelligent way. We stress the same standards apply to a 140-character tweet as they do to a 2,000 word story.
Tweeting wasn’t on our radar three years ago, but if you don’t do it now, you’re not doing yourself justice.
What is the key for a young writer to get a job today?
You have to be able to cross every platform. You have to be able to tell your story in more ways than you used to. You can’t show up with a notebook in your pocket and expect to be relevant. You have to market yourself by demonstrating you can work across all the platforms. If you can do that and retain your core values, then you’re marketable.
What are your hopes for NSJC?
I’d like to grow the program and identify people who can make a difference. I have relationships with people they have relationships with. They’ve done a lot in a short period of time. I hope to be able to build upon it.